Looking Back. To Move Forward. Together.


Emancipation Day commemorates the historic day when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire on August 1st, 1834. If you haven’t heard of it, you are not alone! Through the generations — for almost 200 years —this momentous event in history has gone generally unrecognized. Since 2017, however, FreeUp! Arts has worked to catalyze young people and talented artists from our communities to change this, by asking them:

“What does freedom mean to you?”

As the Artistic Director, it’s a gift and a privilege to be a part of FreeUp!. It’s a day when we commemorate what our ancestors have done for our freedom and what individuals are doing today to maintain our freedom, and it reminds us that we can support this through celebration, creative expression, and personal development. We are reminded of our agency to define what freedom means to us on our terms so we can build a better future for ourselves and each other.

There’s nothing more empowering than youth having the opportunity to create and be stewards of their future. Emancipation Day is not only important for the Black community but for all communities to rejoice together to celebrate freedom and liberty for all

Our team

Founder & Celebrator-in-Chief

Ngozi Paul

Ngozi Paul is an award-winning stage and screen actress, writer, director and producer. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada to pan-African parents from the Caribbean islands, her upbringing created the foundation for her work as a social and cultural innovator.

With academic roots from the prestigious Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre in Ontario, Canada, Ngozi began her acting career on stage at The Stratford Festival of Canada. Following the groundbreaking and successful run of the theatre production 'da Kink in my Hair, Ngozi co-created, executive produced, and was a lead cast member in the television series by the same name. In addition, Ngozi has been cast, most notably, with fellow actors Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Talk to Me) and Rachel Weisz (The Whistleblower).

As playwright, her self-penned one woman piece The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely, an intergenerational, cross continental allegory on the black woman's multitudinous identity, prompted Toronto's alt-weekly Now Magazine to write: “The magnetic Paul holds every moment onstage in a fierce, funny and moving performance.” and named Ngozi Paul as one of five artists to watch in 2015/16.

Paul remains steadfast in her mission to produce innovative, evocative, and compelling content that showcases the diversity of the human experience such as her show Care for Color on US cable television's The Africa Channel, and The 1st Time Project, a multi-platform documentary exploring female sexuality from an intergenerational and intercultural perspective.

She has traveled the world extensively in both her personal and professional capacities, most notably as global ambassador for Plan International's Because I am a Girl and The Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Ngozi Paul has received many industry awards including a Spotlight Performance Award, a CAB (Canadian Association of Broadcasters) Award, and has been nominated for the Gemini Hottest TV Star Award, Gemini Best Ensemble Cast Award, and the Dora Award.

Artistic Director

Khadijah Salawu

Khadijah Salawu is a theatre maker, arts educator, DJ, and community organizer. Salawu completed a B.A. in Drama, Theatre and Performance at the University of Toronto (2018) and currently works as an archivist and researcher at UofT's Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.

Salawu runs a weekly health and wellness initiative called Run Regent in Regent Park which she created in 2015. Her commitment to promote community healthy living in Regent Park was recognized at UofT's Black Graduation (2018) where Salawu won the Angela James Award for Excellence and Outstanding Athletic Achievement. Alongside Run Regent, Salawu has curated Ain't I A Woman. I Am A Man (Design Exchange, 2017) and Lost in Translation (Artscape Yongeplace, 2016). The former recounts the history, family, celebration, hope, trauma, desire, and love within the soul and body of the youth in the Black diaspora through their visual and poetic work while the latter was a multidisciplinary performance event that explores the diaspora experience of youth in Toronto.

Salawu is the Founder and Editor of The African Diaspora Literature and Performance Toolkit, a forthcoming online adaptable list of resources that provides examples about African diasporic literature and performing arts with a focus in African-Canadian creation. It is designed to be used by high school english and drama teachers in their classrooms.

In 2017, Salawu was the Junior Associate Producer for The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely at Crow's Theatre, a production which was nominated for six Dora Awards and received two.

Managing Director

Noora Rizvi

Noora Rizvi (formerly Sagarwala) is an arts producer, marketing professional, audience development specialist and strategy consultant with over fifteen years of management experience in the Canadian cultural sector. She has produced large-scale multidisciplinary national and international festivals, directed non-profit organizations, and provided strategic guidance to artists and organizations in her capacity as a public funder and board member. Her work has involved leading diverse teams, multi-level stakeholder engagement, and complex project management and budgeting.

Noora is currently the Managing Director of Emancipation Arts and its annual festival, FreeUp! Previously, she has held positions at the Ontario Arts Council, Manifesto Community Projects, Young Centre for the Performing Arts / Soulpepper, National Arts Centre and Canada Dance Festival. She holds a B.A. in English (Honours) from the University of Ottawa and she completed her M.B.A. at the Schulich School of Business where she was the recipient of the Carol Anne Letheren Entrance Award, Gregory Misztela MBA Award in Finance, and Joe Green Founders’ Award in Arts & Media.

Festival Producer

Tai Notar

For nearly a decade, Tai Notar has thrived as an emerging leader in the live entertainment industry. Since graduating from the University of West London in London, England in Event Management, Tai has gained a remarkable amount of experience in a variety of roles including, producer, production manager, site operations, credentials manager, staffing manager, artist relations manager and much more. She further developed her knowledge in dealing with artists through her studies in Artist Management at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Tai is the founder and creative force behind the Golden Hour Music & Arts festival, now in its second year.

Driven by a commitment to equity in all its forms, Tai is a confident woman, a natural leader who finds deep satisfaction in nurturing teams to be the very best they can be while she continues her deep desire to learn from others. Her strong interpersonal, communications and organizational skills – along with her passion for quality outcomes – serve her well in the fast paced world of entertainment.

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through our charitable trustee UforChange